Tuesday, 23 February 2016 13:40

Govt flags changes to telco consumer safeguards

Govt flags changes to telco consumer safeguards Image courtesy of imagerymajestic, freedigitalphotos.net/images

The Federal Government has acknowledged that adjustments need to be made to current consumer safeguards to stay up-to-date with changes to available telecommunications technologies and consumer expectations.

The government has made the comment in its response to the 2015 Regional Telecommunications Review report which made 12 key recommendations to improve telecommunications access in regional, rural and remote Australia.

In the report response, the Government said it “agrees that there are arguments that the current consumer safeguard regime is increasingly outdated, given the evolution of the telecommunications markets, including the rollout of the NBN.

“Current concepts and interventions reflect a fixed line voice telephony environment delivered through a vertically integrated Telstra which provides access to its wholesale networks to other carriers.”

In its response, the government also notes that communications products and services are becoming increasingly diverse and varied and are not necessarily delivered via fixed line infrastructure.

“Barriers to entry for service providers have also diminished. Increased competition alone may, as a consequence, address consumer expectations. If not, a review of current regulatory arrangements will need to look at both what remains relevant in the future from the existing regime but also what new issues consumers may face and whether, and how, regulation needs to be applied to mitigate them,” the response notes.

In a joint statement today with the Minister for Regional Communications, Fiona Nash, the Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield said the Productivity Commission has been asked to undertake an inquiry into the future requirements of the Universal Services Obligation (USO) in an “evolving telecommunications market”, with the Terms of Reference to be issued shortly.

Fifield said the government would also examine the overall consumer safeguards framework to ensure that regulations are “fit-for-purpose and take into account ongoing developments in communications technology”.

“Telecommunications plays an important role in the social and economic development of rural and regional Australia, and the Government remains committed to ensuring Australians living in these areas have access to quality telecommunications services,” he said.

In its response to the report, the Government highlighted a number of key policy programs which it says are already improving telecommunications services in regional Australia, including:

  • The ongoing rollout of the national broadband network (nbn) which continues to gather pace across the country. Regional Australians will see benefits in the first half of this year with the launch of commercial services on the ‘Sky Muster’ satellite, the first of two world-class satellites to be launched by NBN Co;
  • The ongoing rollout of high-speed nbn fixed wireless broadband services; and
  • The ongoing rollout of the Mobile Black Spot Programme, with almost 500 new or upgraded mobile base stations to be switched on over the next three years and a further $60 million committed to round 2 of the programme in addition to the $100 million investment made under round 1.

“The full impact of these initiatives is only just beginning to be realised in regional areas, and will continue to gather momentum over the coming years,” Fifield said.

The government's response to the 2015 Regional Telecommunications Review report can be seen here.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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